Play the Theremin: Playing Styles

Playing Styles

A quick look at theremin playing styles through the ages

Like any musical instrument, the theremin is extremely versatile. It is used in a wide variety of styles and genres, and can sound very different depending on how it's played.

 The first application of the theremin was in playing the music of the past - music borrowed largely from the violin repertoire. This may seem strange, but its important to remember at this stage, there was no such genre as 'electronic music'. Early theremin players tended to employ quite a large and sweet vibrato, in order to emulate the violin playing style of the day. The sound produced by the early instruments was very much like a violin, and this clip of Clara Rockmore playing 'The Swan' is a good example of this.

In the 50s, the theremin, creating such an unusual sonority, was employed in a huge number of films - usually to create a spooky atmosphere, add 'spacey' effects, or represent the darker side of human nature. This trailer for the 1950s film 'The Day the Earth Stood Still' employs the theremin, played here by Samuel Hoffman, who uses a wide, fast vibrato to conjure a rather disturbing atmosphere.



 Of course, the 30s style of vibrato is not as popular today, and modern thereminists tend to employ a wider variety of tone colours. This clip of Lydia Kavina is a very good example of a more modern approach to tone colour and vibrato.



This lecture-demonstration by Pamelia Kurstin shows the theremin being used in a jazz context. A number of different techniques are used in this clip - pay attention to the phrasing, and watch out for the radically different 'walking bass' technique she employs midway through the first piece - 'Autumn Leaves' (approx. 2:45)


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